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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Gainesville-UF relations uncertain after Sasse appointment

Mayoral candidates pledge to maintain communication

<p>Gainesville city commissioners vote to eliminate exclusionary zoning despite opposition from some residents and elected officials Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. </p>

Gainesville city commissioners vote to eliminate exclusionary zoning despite opposition from some residents and elected officials Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Both Gainesville and the UF campus expect to take on new leadership in the coming month, leaving many to question how the two will interact in the future.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, is expected to be voted on as president finalist Nov. 1, while the city looks to finalize its new commissioners and mayors in the upcoming November general election. 

If Sasse becomes UF president, his influence wouldn’t be confined to the university’s campus — it would extend into the city, affecting Gainesville residents as well as students.

UF-Gainesville collaborations have been a key feature of the past few years, Mayor Lauren Poe said, and can largely be attributed to one factor: increased communication. This communication has allowed for the establishment of larger collaborative projects.

“We’ve really made a concerted effort to improve the communication and cooperation between the city and the university over the past few years,” Poe said.

The city and university are independent legal bodies with their own charter and constitution; however, both see collaboration on housing development, health care and transportation.

UF students make up 28% of renter households in the city, according to a 2020 housing market analysis

The annual increases in student enrollment could influence apartment developments, as projections state over 40% of future Gainesville households are expected to be renter units, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development researchers found.

Those students living on- and off-campus rely heavily on Gainesville’s Regional Transit Service’s bus transport, which comes as a part of student tuition and connects campus more closely to city routes.

Even UF Health Shands Hospital has an immense impact on the surrounding community aside from providing emergency and other hospital services. The hospital works in partnership with the city to provide health and safety checks to residents through its Community Resource Paramedic Program.

Poe and UF President Kent Fuchs signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017 to address problems more collectively. The document marked the beginning of collaboration on construction and development projects in Gainesville. 

A recent product of this five-year collaboration under Fuchs’ presidency was the proposed development of an urgent care center in East Gainesville, which was passed by the Gainesville City Commission Oct. 20. 

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The center will be operated by UF Health and would provide additional health care opportunities to East Gainesville, which has seen racial disparities in medical access according to a 2018 Bureau of Economic and Business Research study. The project’s creation was a three-way collaboration between the county, city and university.Both Poe and Fuchs are expected to leave their offices in early 2023, putting two new officials in charge of continuing the relationship the city and university has. 

“They’re going to inherit a lot of really positive momentum,” Poe said.

Sasse’s position as UF’s sole presidential finalist has caused tension within both the city and university communities. Past statements on topics like gay marriage and abortion as well as Congressional votes made by the Republican senator led to a mass protest during his first campus visit as president finalist Oct. 10.

The mayoral runoff election, which will conclude Nov. 8, is between District 2 Commissioner Harvey Ward and former Gainesville Regional Utilities General Manager Ed Bielarski.

Despite the public controversy, Bielarski said he hopes, if elected, the two can be productive by focusing on shared issues.

“I think the way the city and university will flourish in the future is by concentrating on our commonalities and strengths rather than our differences,” Bielarski said.

For Ward, who earned the most votes in Gainesville’s primary mayoral election, the potential social and civil conflicts associated with the senator concerned him.

“It is unlikely that Ben Sasse and I will agree on much ideologically,” Ward said.

Despite those disagreements, Ward said he hopes to see partnership and accountability held across the university and city. UF’s influence on the Florida Department of Transportation made it an invaluable ally, he said, and wanted to encourage increased compensation of UF’s lowest-paid workers.

Sasse is expected to return to campus Nov. 1 for his interview with the UF Board of Trustees and subsequent vote on his appointment — seven days before the mayoral runoff election Nov. 8.

Contact Aidan at abush@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a second-year journalism major and the city and county commission reporter for the Alligator. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Citrus County Chronicle. When not writing, he enjoys creating videos, water activities and spending time with his friends.


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